Monday, October 20, 2014

The ABCs of Accessories





Top: J. C. Penney's
Skirt: J. C. Penney's
Shoes: Payless
Bag: Bisou Bisou, J. C. Penney's
Belt: Wet Seal
Sunglasses: Candie's, Kohl's






Blouse: Target
Sweater: DKNY, Macy's
Skirt: Candie's, Kohl's
Shoes: Unlisted, Marshalls
Bag: Kohl's
Sunglasses: Cloud Nine, Ocean City boardwalk






Dress: Macy's
Shoes: Ami Clubwear
Bag: Journeys
Belt: Marshalls
Sunglasses: Cloud Nine, Ocean City boardwalk
Scarf: Express






Dress: Eric and Lani
Shoes: Venus
Bag: Target
Belt: B Fabulous

I stumbled upon these plastic alphabet beads and couldn't help but get all nostalgic.  If kiddie couture is the heart of kawaii, then letters are Lolita's linchpins.  Or something.  So I thought it would be fun to list accessories' greatest hits, the ABCs of accessories, if you will, acrostic-style, as told by the Tote Trove.

A is for adhesive.  Or, to be more precise, permanent adhesive glue.  I use oodles of it now that I'm doing things right and going the nontoxic route.  The less bad stuff in your glue, the less chance you have of a lasting bond.   Which is, interestingly, the opposite of the way things work in real relationships (hey, they don't call it toxic togetherness syndrome for nothing). 

C is for clothes, a. k. a. accessories' second-fiddle canvas.

C is for cabochons.  Because they're pretty and sound pretty cool.

E is for escape, the kind you make when blissfully beading, not listening to that unfortunate (yet still catchy) Rupert Holmes song.

S is for the sitcoms I watch while I make things.  This weekend it was eight back-to-back episodes of "Garfunkel & Oates."  And right now it's a rerun of "Modern Family" in which Phil, coincidentally, spouts off an acrostic poem about real estate.

S is for supplies, supplies, and more supplies.  And also for snacks.

O is for outlandish.  'Nuff said.

R is for rhinestones . . . and reruns (see S).

I is for island motifs worn in winter.

E is for embellishment, that essential element of style and (sometimes) story-telling.

S is for sequins.  Don't listen to what people say; they make everything better (although not as much as rhinestones).

So, accessories are pretty powerful.  So much so that I found myself maybe kind of wanting to buy a mixed lot of Bakelite jewelry as I read Susan Gloss's debut novel, Vintage.  Partly because you can't get bedbugs from plastic, but also because of the power.  As you know, I regularly commit hipster sacrilege by admitting that I don't really "get" vintage (on account of the "used" factor, not the style factor.  The style is usually tops.  And thankfully is often able to be replicated by your nearest big box store in never-before-worn polyester for less than it costs to fill your gas tank).  So it might seem a little odd that I picked up this book during a toilet paper run at Target.  But I liked the cover, which features a red-accessorized wedding dress, and I've never been one to pass up a tale about retail (as my many Shopaholic series references attest), no matter how gently used.   

Vintage is the story of Violet Turner, a vintage-worshiping, rockabilly style-rocking ex-waitress who flees her one-horse town and hard-drinking husband to fulfill her lifelong dream of opening a vintage boutique.  The cleverly coined Hourglass Vintage presides over a picturesque street in freewheeling Madison, Wisconsin, a city which is, apparently, the Portland-meets-Austin of the Midwest.  Violet is a vixen not to be messed with, and she has the phoenix tattoo to prove it.  So when she unexpectedly gets evicted, she immediately hatches a plan -- even if it means accepting the help of accidental intern and teen mom-to-be April and unhappy housewife and budding designer Amithi. Running away from your problems to start a store is a premise that probably appeals to most women.  It's plucky and gutsy and a little bit crazy, flirting fast and loose with "Why not?"  Still, if its irresistibility is what makes it fantastic, then it's the friendships between the three women that match its style with a little substance (sorry, but that one was bound to rear its well-coiffed head sooner or later).  Which is to say that they aren't instant book club buddies.  Their relationships grow more gradually, involving a good deal of guardedness on each other's part, never really (and I don't believe that I'm about to say this) blossoming even at the end.  April, for example, is incredibly pushy in trying to convince Violet to computerize her inventory instead of scribbling transactions in her beloved notebook.  Pregnant or not, I found her overbearing -- until Gloss explained that her controlling personality is a defense mechanism for dealing with her chaotic life (the unplanned pregnancy, as it turns out, is just one spoke in her wheelhouse of woe).  Violet eventually realizes this too, her soft-hearted nature emerging from beneath her tough outer shell.  

All in all, Vintage is a pretty pillbox hat of a story.  Gloss describes the Hourglass Vintage merchandise with equal parts nostalgia and glamour, charming even this staunch secondhand goods detractor.  Furthermore, she establishes the self-contained Violet as a formerly misunderstood teen queen instead of the usual high school outsider, making her quest for authenticity even more interesting.  

In addition to penning novels, Gloss also runs an Etsy vintage shop and writes a blog, making her a modern-day triple threat, hipster style.  Oh, and she's also a lawyer, a fact that comes across loud and clear in the sections about Violet's legal issues.  

That having been said, I'm off to troll Etsy for Bakelite.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

An Eraser Chaser and a Story With Heart






Top: Hollister, Marshalls
Skirt: Modcloth
Shoes: Betseyville, Macy's
Bag: Candie's, Kohl's
Sunglasses: Rampage, Boscov's
Scarf: Express







Tank: Candie's, Kohl's
Tee: Kohl's
Skirt: H&M
Shoes: Betseyville, J. C. Penney's
Bag: Princess Vera, Kohl's
Cherry scarf: A. C. Moore
Sunglasses: Candie's, Kohl's
Polka dot scarf: Wet Seal






Jacket: Material Girl, Macy's
Tank: Mossimo, Target
Skirt: Kohl's
Shoes: Ami Clubwear
Bag: Marshalls
Belt: Wet Seal
Sunglasses: J. C. Penney's

They say there's nothing new under the sun, and once in a while, they're right.  Years ago, I noticed fellow Etsians selling jewelry made from those kooky Japanese puzzle erasers.  Frilly desserts, fast food, fruits, and more dangled from necklaces and winked from rings, and I, for one, was charmed. Having amassed my own collection of the offbeat office supplies, I started making my own jewelry.  But because I hadn't come up with the idea, I didn't feel right about selling the pieces.  I was so staunch in this view that I even blogged about it.  Then last month I was trolling through my supplies, dedicated to my new-found mission of using up what I had, when I discovered a whole box of the things.  "I should start making stuff with these again," I thought. I picked out the cutest ones and got to work gluing the puzzle pieces together, coating them with clear nail polish, and spearing each with an eye pin and jump ring. The process was tedious but satisfying, and I felt nearly giddy as I transformed the formerly dead weight into wearable whimsy (because really, if whimsy isn't wearable, then what good is it?).  Stringing them up with star-shaped pony beads only ignited my infatuation, and when I finished I wondered if it would really be so bad if I posted them in my shop.  After all, plenty of Etsians made eraser jewelry, just as plenty of Etsians strung beads.  Talking myself out of doing the same suddenly seemed kind of silly.  So up they went, right alongside my felt and collages and everyday beads, just another curiosity in my everything-but-the-kitchen-sink setup.

Jewelry crafts are a little like love stories, which is to say, a dime a dozen yet still singular from each other.  I recently read such a romance, Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes.  This British charmer introduces us to Louisa Clark, an ordinary girl in extraordinary clothing who becomes a caretaker to a quadriplegic, the once powerful and (still) wealthy Will Traynor.  A little bit Beauty and the Beast, a little bit My Fair Lady, and a little bit anything by Nicholas Sparks, Me Before You manages to emerge as a story that stands out from its influences.  At once workaday and full of wonder, it's much like Louisa herself, refreshingly realistic even in the thick of the most trying scenes.  I immediately thought, "Oh, this would make a great movie."  I pictured a gray-skied indie flick sprigged with sweeping countryside and classic British class drama, as gently Gothic and wry as a witty old biddy in a black wedding hat.  Sure enough, when I finished reading, I saw that it was bound for the big screen, in August 2015.  My imagination started reeling, casting James Franco as Will (on account of his snarky smarts and ability to walk the line between deep and douchey) and Zooey Deschanel as Louisa (on account of her unassuming otherness, childlike candor, and quirky clothes), at least until I learned that the cast was entirely British.  Far more sensible, I thought, quickly regrouping, to keep that thread of authenticity throbbing.  I'm not going to say much more about the story, except that it's at the same time predictable and revelatory, true to its contradictions until the last page.  It -- and surely, you must have known that I was going to say something like this -- makes you think about the meaning of life, about the paradox of fate and free will and our part in it all.  That's the thing about books; they force you to hit pause amid life's chaos, trying to teach you something that you can use when you're plunged into the chaos again.

I think all of this will be well worth the price of admission next summer.  Still, it would've been nice to learn life lessons through the lens of James Franco.  Even if he was in Planet of the Apes.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Springing Back into Summer and Falling for Fall TV







Tunic: Miken, Marshalls
Tee: Kohl's
Skirt: Olsenboye, J. C. Penney's
Shoes: Betseyville, Macy's
Bag: Etsy, Uniquely Different
Belt: J. C. Penney's
Scarf: Wet Seal
Sunglasses: J. C. Penney's






Tunic: Miken, Marshalls
Bra top: Boscov's
Skirt: L'Amour, J. C. Penney's
Shoes: J. C. Penney's
Bag: Nordstrom
Belt: Wet Seal
Sunglasses: J. C. Penney's






Tunic: Miken, Marshalls
Tee: Kohl's
Dress masquerading as a skirt: Marshalls
Shoes: Ami Clubwear
Bag: Nine West, Boscov's
Belt: Wet Seal
Sunglasses: Rampage, Boscov's

The first summery thing about this post is the two scenic pictures.  They're both of the north end of Brigantine, and I took them during a recent bicycle ride with the husband.  As you know, I normally refrain from outdoorsy activities.  But I was glad that I came along this time, as I'd never been to this part of the island in the six plus years I've lived here.  It's beautiful, kind of wild and hidden and marshy.  I can see why people like it, despite it bearing the brunt of most hurricanes' wrath.

The second summery thing about this post is the hot pink lace cover-up.  I know; I too was surprised to find that that's what it was when I found it at Marshalls some three years ago.  Somehow, it seems too fancy to toss over a bikini.  That's probably one of the reasons why I've never worn it.  But I wanted to change that, or at least do the next best thing by having Tammy (the Torso, that is, for those of you scratching your heads) wear it.  So I challenged myself to use it in three outfits.  The middle one is my favorite, even if it does kind of scream fashion don't at the VMAs.  

And now on to the good part, which is to say, the TV.  I don't know about you, but once Labor Day hits, I'm as excited about fall premier week as a cat in a yarn store.  There's nothing to beat fall's sneaky chill like the cozy glow that is the TV screen.  I like to think of it as the modern-day fireplace.  Or maybe I should say campfire, as that's the one with the stories.  Anyway, there's a lot of programming to choose from, so I'll just give (admittedly specious) shout-outs to the lineups I follow.  I'm something of a line-up lemming, tolerating shows that I'd otherwise skip simply because they're surrounded by some of my favorites.  Still, at the end of the day (or should I say week?) I end up enjoying them all on some level, taking the same even-when-it's-bad-it's-good approach to sitcoms that people take to pizza.  Hey, whether it's entertainment or eats, the more cheese the better.    

That having been said, Fox came out of the gate running the second week in September with the ever edgy "New Girl" and "The Mindy Project."  Family-friendly ABC reclaimed its Wednesday night reign, regaling us with old favorites like "The Middle" and "Modern Family," now bookending sophomore sitcom "The Goldbergs" and wrapping up with the brand-new "Blackish," all contriving to create a downy cushion for the last-act drama of "Nashville"(which is not a sitcom, but pretty soft as dramas go, making it a-okay in my [song] book.)  Then the following Tuesday ABC introduced "Selfie" and "Manhattan Love Story," serving up stories for singles.  In the CBS camp, "The Big Bang Theory" found its way once again back to Mondays, at least until late October when it joins two of Chuck Lorre's other offspring, "Two and a Half Men" and "Mom" ("Mike and Molly" will return mid-season).  But it's NBC that remains the most barren, with the final season of "Parks and Recreation" yet to debut while newbies "Bad Judge" and "A to Z" play out as sweetly acerbic appetizers.      

Whew, that was more than a mouthful.  Which means that there's just enough room to cram in some eating (cheddar choked or whole grain healthy?  I'll never tell) before tonight's two-hour sitcom block begins.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Land of a Thousand Necklaces . . .






Top: Bongo, Sears
Skirt: Macy's
Shoes: Payless
Bag: Princess Vera, Kohl's
Jacket: Tommy Hilfiger, Marshalls
Sunglasses: Candie's, Kohl's
Scarf: Wet Seal








Tee: American Rag, Macy's
Skirt: Kohl's
Shoes: Payless
Bag: Target
Belt: J. C. Penney's
Sunglasses: Candie's, Kohl's








Tank: J. C. Penney's
Bra: Macy's
Cardigan: Kohl's
Skirt: Marshalls
Shoes: BCBG, Macy's
Bag: Etsy, Glamour Damaged
Sunglasses: Candie's, Kohl's

. . . is where I'll be living if I keep up this pace.  It turns out that simpler necklaces are quicker and easier to make, causing my stock to burgeon at a rate that's more than a little alarming.  Still, I can't seem to stem my appetite for making accessories.  I'm greedy that way, living by the too-much-is-never-enough crafter's creed.  

Greed was certainly at work in The Millionaires, a book by Inman Majors that I just finished reading.  I'd received it as a gift, and I didn't think that I'd like it, as it was an unwieldy tale of political intrigue and new money in the South in the late 1970s.  And at first I was right.  The opening scene is all about swagger, introducing the two sometime stars of the novel, brothers J. T. and Roland Cole, through the lens of a high stakes poker game.  It's long and drawn-out and that irritating mix of erudite and macho, and when I read it a year or so ago, I thought, I don't think I can do this.  I rarely give up on a book and pride myself on my eclectic taste (which is, I'm sure, how I ended up with this book in the first place), so my white flag behavior was something of an anomaly.  Then last week I found myself fresh out of reading material and, in the spirit of thriftiness and ego, decided to give J. T. and Roland one more chance.

I'm not saying that it was easy.  The brothers Cole still weren't leaping off the page.  Opportunistic country boys-come-businessmen, their obliviousness to everything except their pursuit of power and wealth was less than engaging.  But once I was about a hundred pages in (the tome totals 478), I'd become well acquainted with what I call the "perks."  The perks are the good parts of otherwise boring books, the silver linings, the prizes in the Cracker Jacks boxes.  (You'd have to know that I hate Cracker Jacks for that to make sense).  And this being a literary novel, the perks were pretty good.  For one thing, Majors is an excellent writer (and ought to be, as a fiction professor at James Madison University), particularly talented at description and introspection and at using both to transform characters into people.  Not so much the Coles, mind you, as they remain pretty static throughout the saga, but their wives and mistresses and most notably their adviser, Teague.  Majors has them reliving these subtle, shameful incidents that make you smart with embarrassment over your own such memories.  In a novel in which appearances mean everything, such exposure is especially effective and all the more human.

Another gem?  Roland's encounter with an Appalachian craftsman at his fait accompli of a world's fair extravaganza.  

"And what these people could craft, and craft from, producing household necessities and art and music from so little.  Such historically poor, poor people, and still the urge to create, art from apples and rags, instruments from gourds and horsehair.  He thought now, on this last night of the fair, that he understood the creative urge.  How it was a thing that one simply must do, regardless of situation or reception." (375)      

Of course, I understand this urge to make something from nothing even if no one else ever sees it or needs it.  It's why I can't stop making stuff. (To be clear, I realize that there's a world of difference between a suburban woman stringing rhinestones for fun and a mountain man making lye before he kills dinner, although I don't doubt that my compulsion is any less primitive.)  In an attempt at solidarity, Roland, who lives in a mansion, tells the man about his boyhood red oak table and how it's still standing in his mother's house.  The man tells him that it'll last a hundred years more.  Then Roland goes on to talk to another craftsperson, a grateful doll-making woman who is now selling her work all over the world thanks to Roland's fair.  The scene ends with the first craftsman telling Roland to take care of his table.  

I know, I know.  This all sounds totally random.  But you have to know that the Coles are hicks from the sticks desperately trying to appear polished, an ambition that is foiled time and time again as Majors confronts them with their country roots.  Red oak tables are built to last and mansions aren't, as evidenced when Roland is convicted of defrauding scores of townspeople in the following chapters. Still, Majors makes us see that Roland and J. T. aren't all bad.  He even sort of paints them as Robin Hoods, stealing from the rich and giving (entrepreneurial opportunities, monstrous tips) to the poor.  I'm not saying that what they did was justified -- I'm not sure that their characters have enough depth for such premeditation -- but it's certainly an underlying theme in the book, this not being able to deny where you come from, not just with the Coles, but with their wives, and with Teague.  It's this quiet truth that anchors the novel's surrounding chaos, the homespun heart that outshines all the glitter.

So those were the perks.  Otherwise, I didn't like this book at all.  I didn't like the lyricism of the language, or the way it made me hunt for themes and symbols as if I were back in college.  Just as sometimes, when all the cheese wheels and ice pops are gone, I can be caught begrudgingly and not unhappily filching Cracker Jacks.